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The Blue & Gray Press | May 28, 2018

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Tuition Town Hall informs students

By REGINA WEISS

The Student Government Association (SGA) sponsored a Tuition Town Hall to inform students about ongoing discussions regarding tuition and budgets of the University of Mary Washington.

Taking place on Wednesday, Feb. 27, the meeting was attended by Vice President for Administration and Finance Rick Pearce, Vice President for Student Affairs Doug Searcy, Dean of Student Affairs Cedric Rucker, Executive Director of Budget and Financial Analysis Paul Messplay, and two members of the Board of Visitors (BOV), Joseph Grzeika and Judson Honaker.

SGA President Jeremy Thompson opened the meeting with introductions and spoke about the BOV meetings, where he said many of the issues that are very critical to student life are discussed.

Thompson mentioned the BOV members present at the meeting.

“They are here to hear what you guys have to say, to hear your opinions so your voice can be articulated at the highest level,” said Thompson.

Pearce introduced Messplay to speak about the budget and what he called the pressures that are on the university so everyone could understand the matters at hand.

Messplay’s presentation got the conversation started, focusing on tuition, fees and the university budget.

He gave a brief summary of the operating budget and presented the key factors that affect tuition and fee rates, such as state funding, state financing policy and comparing the numbers of in-state and out-of-state students.

Messplay showed the students a chart of a “typical financial statement” with UMW revenue sources.  The operating budget is about $103 million, according to Messplay.

However, there is no single budget at UMW.

“It’s really a series of six individual budgets,” said Messplay.

Educational and general programs make up part of the budget, which supports the “instructional mission” of UMW, such as classrooms, the library, academic technology, human resources and Campus Police.

For the educational and general programs budget, UMW receives about $20 million from the Commonwealth, and $31.5 million from student tuition, according to Messplay.

Auxiliary enterprises is another in the series of budgets, which are “typically thought of as self-supporting business activities” and includes the bookstore and the dining program, according to Messplay.

The university’s auxiliary enterprise budget receives no state support and is completely supported by students, according to Messplay.

Another part of the budget is comprised of UMW students’ payments of two comprehensive fees annually, which includes one for the educational and general programs, and another for programs in the auxiliary enterprise.

The fourth area in the budget is student financial assistance, with dedicated funds from the state of $1.7 million for in-state, need-based undergraduate aid, and $2.8 million in federal aid comprising mostly of Pell Grants.

The museums and cultural services budget is the fifth budget and is supported by the state with no student funds used.

The sixth area of the budget is the higher education center, which is funded almost entirely by state funds and not supported by any student funds.

Messplay pointed out that much of the budget relies on student revenue, referring to the budgets for educational and general programs, the auxiliary enterprise and the comprehensive fees. He also spoke about state funding fluctuations and their effect on the budget and student costs.

While explaining state funding, Messplay showed different graphs and explained that the state revenue source is unstable.

Messplay explained that the amount “goes up and down, it tends to follow the economy.”

Unfortunately, he said, “Higher education is typically a favorite place to cut from the general assembly” since it is a big part of the budget and schools have the ability to raise costs.

Because of state-funding fluctuations over the past decade, many institutions have raised tuition, including UMW, “to develop a more stable component to the revenue budget,” according to Messplay.

He showed statistics of tuition growth and state funding and explained that students are now paying more than the state.

“It’s not so much that the total cost of education has grown that much, what has changed is who pays for it,” he said.

Out-of-state students receive no state funding.

In the 2013-2014 school year, there is a three percent mandated salary increase for faculty and staff, totaling $1.2 million, and a health insurance rate increase of 18 percent, which totals to approximately $896,000.

The state pays about half of that, which therefore leads to a 2.5 percent tuition increase to make up for the rest of the cost, according to Messplay.

There are also other general operating and future costs that impact tuition increases, such as the new campus center.

The number of out-of-state students has declined significantly in the past decade.  This is significant because out-of-state students pay about $12,000 more than in-state students, according to Messplay.

“Out-of-state students are actually subsidizing our in-state students,” said Messplay.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SHEV) is required to check that state universities comply with the policy that out-of-state students pay 100 percent of the cost of education.

UMW out-of-state students are paying 137 percent of cost, which is lower than the 152 percent average for Virginia universities.

BOV members who attended the meeting stated tuition increases could not be predicted until their next meeting.

Grzeika spoke about his desire to hear student input.

“You are our customers; you are the people that we support, so your opinion is important,” he said.

Kagan McSpadden, SGA Director of Community Outreach, responded to the possible tuition increase.

“There are a lot of on-campus projects, like the campus center, that we’re all really excited about, that we know has to get paid for somehow,” said McSpadden.

While this is understood, she said, she expressed a collective student concern about tuition rising “upwards of four, five or six percent.”

Lynn Pincus, junior political science major, was one of the students who attended the town hall, and while she thought the Administrators and BOV members were willing to listen, she was surprised by the lack of student attendance at the meeting.

“You can complain in Seaco and on Facebook forever, but if you really care you should go to these types of events,” said Pincus.

Pincus said she went to the town hall because she is an out-of-state student and that the university is expensive for her to attend.

“I have multiple friends who were out of state and had to leave because of tuition raises,” said Pincus.